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#OnTheRoadULC: Featuring Montgomery County Public Libraries // Two Librarians & A Microphone Podcast

Working towards a common goal, Montgomery County Public Libraries capitalized on collaboration and brought the REAL program to life. 

The REAL Program, coordinated by the Jewish Council for the Aging’s Heyman Interages Center, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Montgomery County Library, helps children and families make good use of time while waiting for HHS services at four County offices. It provides community book collec­tions, information resources on literacy and healthy habit development for caregivers; and guidance on using the public library.


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Jim Heuer [00:00:00] Hey, everybody. Before we dive into this episode of Two Librarians and A Microphone. We wanted to let the listeners know we had some microphone difficulties that resulted in static during the interview that we could not remove. Not to worry, you can still hear all of the amazing innovations as described to us by Anita Vassallo, acting director of Montgomery County Public Library in Maryland. So please, sit back and enjoy, and thank you very much for your understanding. Hi everybody, this is Jim Heuer, host of the Ingram Library Services podcast, Two Librarians and a Microphone. I'm here with librarian number two, Donna George. We're excited to come to you live from the Urban Library Council Annual Forum in Baltimore, Maryland. Ingram Library Services is a proud sponsor of the Innovation Awards that the ULC bestows upon their member libraries. Today, we have one of the top innovators, we have with us the acting director for Montgomery County, Anita Vassallo. Welcome Anita.

Anita Vassallo [00:01:18] Thank you, Jim.

Jim Heuer [00:01:19] Thank you for joining us. The Montgomery County Library has been given an Honorable Mention in the Civic and Community Engagement Category for a program you call, REAL Change, reading and educating to advance lives. Anita, can you tell us a little bit about that program and how it came to be?

Anita Vassallo [00:01:38] I would be happy to. Montgomery County Public Libraries are located in Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C.. The REAL program is a collaboration between the Department of Public Libraries, and the Department of Health and Human Services, both Montgomery County departments, and a program from the Jewish Council for the Aging, their Interages center. What the REAL program does is volunteers from the Jewish Interages program, who are volunteers fifty years and older, work with Montgomery County Public Libraries and the Department of Health and Human Services to provide programs at service centers. Residents who need to come in and apply for services from government agencies often face a long wait. If you have parents who have to bring their young children along with them, to sit in a waiting room, as they apply for services, small children and long waits don't really go together all that well. Volunteers from Interages read to the childre and also talk about early literacy skills with the parents. There's a health component. They teach some dental health skills. Just generally have a good time. The Jewish Council for the Aging is able to provide some materials for the children to take home with them in the way of books. Now, the staff members from the public libraries are our outreach team members. We have four people who form our outreach team. They go out to the HHS office when the volunteers are there. We have collections that we place in these offices which are appropriate library materials.

Anita Vassallo [00:03:39] They're meant to stay there so that the kids have them to use. We've done some training with the volunteers from Interages so that they know how to interact with the kids, they're demonstrating the early literacy skills for the parents. It's been very successful. We started it at two of the service centers, and we expanded it this year, to four of the service centers. We hope to be able to expand it further. It's a benefit to the children and the families who are there to apply for Social Services. You're not always in the best frame of mind when you're trying to negotiate sometimes, the government bureaucracy. It's a benefit to the volunteers who obviously feel very rewarded by having this interaction with the kids and the families. Of course, for us, it promotes one of our main missions, which is early literacy and reaching out to young children so that they can be successful when they enter the schools in Montgomery County.

Donna George [00:04:48] Anita, that's super good stuff. One thing we've heard at this conference over and over are these collaborative efforts. I'm just curious, how did you come to kind of be in this partnership with the Jewish organization? How do you kind of discover what those organizations are, and how do you look for those partnership opportunities?

Anita Vassallo [00:05:09] We have a couple of staff members who are program managers. One person focuses on these types of partnerships. We actually have an assistant director position who, one of their main functions, is partnerships and outreach. As a matter of fact, we're hiring for that position right now in Montgomery County. So, if anyone listening to this podcast thinks that that would be something they would be interested in, please do go to Montgomery County Maryland government website and take a look at the available jobs. So we reach out, we network with other county departments. There's a lot of, kind of, collaborative work that we do within the county. In terms of the work with the Interages group, the Jewish service organizations in Montgomery County are great for us to partner with. We have some that work with us on work force development. We have some that work with us on programming for seniors. Then we already had a program called Grand Readers, where we had volunteers come into the branch libraries, at a particular time each week. Kids come and read to them. It's friendly, warm kind of older person who will sit, listen to a child read, read with them. So, it's kind of that supportive thing. The REAL program kind of grew out of that. What could we do that was a little bit more. Because we're always interested in reaching out to people who don't use our services. I mean we do a fairly good job serving the community that enters the library, but there's so many who are unserved or under-served.

Anita Vassallo [00:06:57] This is a way for us to get out and reach them and let them know the types of things that a library card can provide for them. Our outreach teams do library card applications, and give library cards on the spot for people who may never have thought about coming into the public library, maybe they're working two jobs, they're not able to get into us during our open hours. This can let people know of the services, and the resources, and the materials and everything that's there to support them and their children.

Jim Heuer [00:07:30] You said resources and materials. That kind of got me thinking, the human resources were supplied by the volunteers as well as some of your staff members doing some training. So, if somebody's listening and they didn't want to apply for that job. They wanted to maybe, put this program into place in their community. Did you have to make a lot of budget concessions for this program? Or did it take a lot of capital? Or was it more human capital than dollars?

Anita Vassallo [00:07:59] There were no particular budget impacts with this program because, the outreach team, their specific positions are going out and working with people in different ways. Whether it's a visit to a Head Start program, or manning a table at a Farmer's Market, or working with volunteers when they're outside the library. So their service is specifically directed outside the physical boundaries of a library building. We have four full-time library associates for whom this, this is their job, to get out into the community and work with people in various ways. The books that we have placed in the service offices are from our collection already. These may be things that have been deaccessioned from one of the branch libraries, and we have them there and replenish them. So, no budgetary impacts at all, really. I mean, since it's just seen as part of the work of the outreach team.

Jim Heuer [00:09:01] So to make such an impact in areas you know, kind of the bringing the library to where the patrons are, if they can't always get to the library, right? That's a theme that we hear as well. You know, but to be able to do that without impacting your budget seems like that just advances your mission so much more without it having to affect negatively in other areas.

Anita Vassallo [00:09:22] Right. This is why the partnerships, community partnerships are so important for us, whether they be within county government. In addition to working with the Department of Health and Human Services, we work the with the Office of Consumer Protection. We work with the Recreation Department. So, a lot of that goes on in Montgomery County, which is a wealthy county, and has within it some real areas where, people are what they call, in the Super Zip, where it's extremely high education, extremely high income, as well as pockets of poverty. But to be able to leverage the community organizations, who often have good funding, and very committed volunteers, who want to make a difference in the community. Of course, as it has been mentioned this weekend, more than once, libraries have a position of trust in the community. We're able to reach out to people in the community who need what these organizations want to provide. So, really, it's a benefit I think to everyone. For other library systems, who might be interested in getting a program like this off the ground, you just probably need to network with whatever agency it is in your community that provides these kinds of social services. Whether it be food stamps, rental assistance, emergency medical care, those types of things, where people gather to apply for this type of service.

Jim Heuer [00:10:57] Wow. This week and doing these podcasts constantly reinforced the unique ways that libraries find challenges in their communities. Then figure out ways to overcome those challenges, and help their patrons.

Anita Vassallo [00:11:11] I've been so impressed by what I've heard and people that I've talked to at the conference and what they're doing in their libraries. The city librarian of El Paso and talking about how their working on basically taking over education direction in their city was amazing. That's quite something.

Jim Heuer [00:11:36] Before we let you go, we also want to let everybody know that if they're enjoying these podcasts...

Anita Vassallo [00:11:44] Yes, Montgomery County Maryland Public Libraries do have a podcast, which we call Library Matters. It's released every two weeks. We talk about a wide range of things related to libraries and books and authors. We have a lot of fun with it and pass on great information. It's just another way for us to reach out to the community and make sure they know what we're offering to them.

Jim Heuer [00:12:10] That's excellent. So iTunes, Stitcher, places where you can find podcasts?

Anita Vassallo [00:12:15] Yeah.

Jim Heuer [00:12:16] Subscribe, to Library Matters. Excellent. Thank you so much, and congratulations on your award. That's fantastic.

Anita Vassallo [00:12:23] Thank you very much and thank you so much for having me on the podcast.

Jim Heuer [00:12:25] Alright. Take care.

Anita Vassallo [00:12:26] Thank you.

Jim Heuer [00:12:27] Two Librarians and A Microphone is brought to you by Ingram Library Services, it is a division of Ingram Content Group. Our producer/director is Rachel Cope, sound engineering by Craig Simpson, special assistance by Essence Brisco, and Elizabeth Wilcox. The research done by our librarians, Trisha Bengel and Donna George. I'm Jim Heuer, thanks most of all to you for listening. Please follow us on Instagram at @thelibrarylife, tag us in your #thelibrarylife moments, because we've got some cool stuff going on, on that social media platform. We're going to be giving away some exclusive books, ARCs, perhaps a signed copy. In order to make sure you're staying tuned to this podcast, we'd love for you to go to our landing page, but most importantly, the best way you can show your support for us, is we'd love some reviews on Apple iTunes. If you can go on there and leave us a positive review, that would really help. We'll see you in your libraries. Thanks everybody.